score by Carter Burwell
Carter Burwell’s score for Fargo is the perfect aural expression of the film’s chief theme of hardscrabble Midwestern dignity. The lilting main melody is lifted from a Norwegian folk song, appropriate given the ethnic makeup of a huge percentage of native Minnesotans. But then, the snow plow crests the horizon of the lonely, ice-swept country road and the music swells into a stately funeral dirge (for Paul Bunyan, maybe?). It then lifts into a major key for one brief, yearning moment before crawling back under the snowdrift of melancholy. It’s music for cinching up the parka to face subzero temperatures—not because you want to, but because it’s your duty, dammit, and there’s no sense questioning it. Elsewhere, Burwell’s accompaniment is equally sad and subdued, signaling the fact that, comic interludes and characterizations aside, this story and these people are meant to be taken seriously. But Fargo’s tragedy isn’t its lengthy trail of dead bodies. Its Marge Gunderson’s gradual awakening to the fact that there are evil forces at work in the world that can’t be faced down with simple Midwestern practicality, decency, or common sense. The soundtrack is her soundtrack. But one question remains: how hard it is to tune a wood chipper to D flat?